Like most people, I picked Thiago Santos to beat Glover Teixeira. And not because I think Santos is an elite fighter. In MMA, it’s often hard to separate spectacular performances from spectacular standards. It’s easy to see what Santos did to Jon Jones and imagine a few extra breaks resulting in a win. It’s harder to see what Santos did to Jon Jones and imagine where it wouldn’t help against a different fighter. But recency bias and all. How much could Glover realistically have left in the tank? How well can he take a punch? It turns out, there’s quite a bit left.
A lot? I’m not ready to say. The fight was a listacle of Glover’s greatest hits, if Glover’s greatest hits had his weaknesses on display too. He got caught on several occasions. As a result, his wrestling looked like what you might charitably call ‘desperate’ at times. But his rugged combination striking and graceful transition grappling were on full display. The resulting win now has him in serious contention for the LHW belt. Again.
Teixeira has had an atypical road, to say the absolute least. From reverence to relevance, as I like to say. Just like Chuck Liddell was ‘the guy Tito Ortiz struggled with during training’ before he made the big time, Glover was the Other Guy at The Pit. That was when he was discovered. John Hackleman, Liddell’s then-trainer, bumped into him after Glover lost to one of Hackleman’s students in his debut.
That was in 2002. It took him six years to make a name for himself in North America. He lost to some names (Ed Herman), and beat some names (Sokoudjou, before he became a two-hit wonder in Pride), building what looked like a burgeoning, journeyman career. There was just, one, small problem.
Glover was in the country illegally.
Teixeira’s Visa issues have been well-documented. It was the running ‘joke’ while he fought in Brazil. Teixeira’s North American presence had been teased before. After all, obtaining a work visa was supposed to take months. If you were an underground dork like me, constantly searching for top prospects, you’d hear the whispers. ‘Wait until Chuck’s training partner starts getting bigger fights. Just wait. Just wait...’
Remember, Light Heavyweight was ending its ‘golden age’. While Glover was picking off ham and eggers in Brazil, we were getting Liddell vs. Wanderlei well past its expiration date. Pride had been dissolved, and the anticipated ‘takeover’ lasted just one year. Quinton Jackson came in and took Chuck’s crown, but it was talent from a reality show of drunken hijinks that carried the torch, with guys like Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin winning gold soon after.
For Glover, months turned into years during this time. He had some decent wins during his “exile” in Brazil. Marcio Cruz, Ricco Rodriguez, Marvin Eastman, etc. But it sucked to think that we were losing Glover’s best years. He was already in his 30’s during this time. Being young, and being a prospect tend to be mutually inclusive in professional sports. Needless to say, whatever Glover’s ceiling was, the juice had already started running for fans itching for ‘new blood’ — a phrase also rife with connotations of youth.
Once Glover finally made it, he got to a title shot quicker than bureaucracy was able to figure out his visa. I decided to go back to that Jon Jones fight. It’s not a great fight, but it’s a good one. It’s grimy as all hell, and notable for the fact that Jones fought the fight Glover, as opposed to Jon, needed to in order to win. But I get the sense, watching it now and extrapolating broader psychological themes than is necessary, that it all happened too fast. Glover spent six years refining his fight trade in North America. He spent three years refining his fight trade in Brazil. But he only spent two years earning a title shot on the world’s biggest MMA stage.
Perhaps Glover deserved the Raoni Barcelos treatment: spending two years just to get warmed up. Who knows. Things have changed since he’s gone from a thirty-year old prospect to a forty-year old veteran. His takedowns look less like a natural extension of his striking, and more like ‘Anthony Johnson’s not in front of me is he?’ improv. Conversely, his pressure boxing, once capable of smoothly baiting counters and exerting force at midrange and in close, appear rushed. He no longer has that gear shift from brawler to technician, technician to brawler.
It’s all just messy. But I guess it makes sense that Glover’s second wind inside the cage would look a lot like first first wind outside of it. His standards aren’t as spectacular as they used to be, but against Santos, he showed that his performance could perform beyond those diminishing standards. The cliche goes that great fighters always have one last great fight left in them. For Glover, a potential LHW title win would make it two.